ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - The practice field brought little relief to London Fletcher, and neither did the once-enticing prospect of facing the Bills, his former team.
Whatever excitement that led the Redskins linebacker to circle this Sunday's game against Buffalo when the NFL schedule came out has faded. It has been replaced by an empty numbness that followed this week's sudden shooting death of Fletcher's teammate, safety Sean Taylor.
``I knew when we played Buffalo,'' Fletcher said Wednesday during a conference call with Buffalo-area reporters. ``But right now, it obviously doesn't have the same meaning to me.''
Except for allowing an occasional and familiar chuckle - ``Nah, this is just another game for me,'' he said with a laugh - that became widely known during his five-year career with the Bills, Fletcher spoke in reserved and reflective terms, still in shock over what happened.
``Yeah, a numbness would be pretty accurate,'' Fletcher said, summing up his mood. ``For me, as I was watching the news and seeing Sean up there, it was just like, 'This doesn't seem real.'''
On Saturday, before the Redskins traveled for a game at Tampa Bay, Fletcher recalled seeing Taylor in the Redskins training room. By 6 a.m. Tuesday, he had received a text message from agent Drew Rosenhaus informing him that Taylor had died a little more than 24 hours after he had been shot in the bedroom of his suburban Miami home during what police suspect was a random burglary.
Suddenly football, the game which had been Fletcher's passion, became secondary.
``Once we got out on the practice field today, it was an escape for just a couple of hours. But it still wasn't that normal type of, you know, when you're focused and between the white lines,'' Fletcher said. ``I know I found myself thinking about Sean.''
He worried whether those thoughts might carry over to Sunday, because Fletcher found little comfort even in facing the Bills for the first time since he left to sign with Washington as a free agent last March.
``When you see people you haven't seen for a long time, you get a smile on your face. That'll help,'' he said. ``But I just don't know. This is uncharted territory for us as a team, me as a professional football player.''
Taylor's death has cast a pall over a contest between two teams with 5-6 records, both needing a win to realistically stay alive in their respective playoff races.
And missing the playoffs during his tenure in Buffalo was one of the reasons - another was signing a five-year, $25 million contract in Washington - Fletcher left the Bills.
Buffalo's lack of success couldn't be blamed on Fletcher after the undersized but tenacious middle linebacker proved to be the team's most consistent performer. He never missed a start and led Buffalo in tackles in each of his five seasons, including a career-best 209 in 2002.
Fletcher has not lost a step, leading Washington with 95 tackles.
``It's been great for me, a great transition,'' the 10-year veteran said. ``I miss some things in Buffalo, some people within the organization, some teammates, but I think I'm at a good place in my career.''
Bills linebacker Angelo Crowell has stayed in touch with Fletcher, and is not surprised by how well he's doing.
``He's been playing like that for a long time now. It's almost expected,'' Crowell said. ``I'd be surprised if he wasn't playing well.''
Fletcher carries no hard feelings toward the Bills, saying he left on good terms even though he was unhappy with what he considered to be the team's weak attempt to re-sign him.
What's harder to deal with is Taylor's death.
``It hit me like a ton of bricks,'' said Fletcher, who is a religious person. ``There's a grieving, there's a healing part of it. It's tough. But for me, my faith is what I'm leaning on.''

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